Never let it be said that I’m a stubborn man. Well, okay, no, not that so much, but only a short while ago I was owning up to the shame that I’d probably never read this book and yet here I am — following reassurances from no less authorities than Nick Fuller and TomCat — reviewing, and so presumably having read, it. Here’s the heart-in-my-hands moment: Crispin wrote 4½ great books, then a terrible one, then this one, then another terrible one, and this was the only one I’d not read. But it’s bracketed by two books so awful that I’d wipe them out of existence, so my fears were, I feel, well-founded. And you want to know what I thought, right? Were my reservations borne out? Who was right? Ohmygod the tension…well, let’s get into it.
We’ve all done it — in the excitement of finally stumbling across a novel by an author we’ve heard a lot about (or maybe heard nothing about, if you’re feeling adventurous) you snap up a book, take it home…and it lingers and lingers on your TBR, staring at you every time you go near your bookshelves to pick something out. The guilt of its unread-ness builds inside of you, but the inclination to actually open it and read it never quite matches the initial rush of blood to the head that saw you buy it in the first place.
I’ve read a lot of comics in my time, I spend many hours online enthusiastically contributing to discussions about a moderately obscure area of popular culture — hell, I even wear glasses. I must, therefore, be a nerd. I mean, sure, I don’t own a single t-shirt emblazoned with some hilarious-but-obscure quote or image, but that’s mainly because the kinds of things I’d put on a t-shirt — “Hairy Aaron!” or, say, a decal of Gideon Fell above the legend Don’t irritate a man who knows 142 ways to kill you without being the same room — no-one else wants on a t-shirt and so they’re not available to buy.
Okay, so I’m going to do my best to stay on-task today; none of these wild flights of fancy. A discussion of Golden Age academic mystery and nothing more. And since I already have my post sorted for next Tuesday, and that’s the final week in June, it has to be now that I engage in some discussion about Edmund Crispin and the irrepressible Gervase Fen. Continue reading →
Any conversation about Marsh, see, veers into the debate over the Queens of Crime which is rife with obviously-Christie, pro-Sayers (hmmm), anti-Mitchell (yay!), possibly-Allingham (wooo!) debate, but Brad says that his personal “Queens of Crime” included John Dickson Carr and Ellery Queen. And I thought: hang on a minute, male monarchs? There’s a word for that…
Following my torrent of Sherlock Holmes I was tempted to do a ‘Five to Try’ on the short story collections, picking my favourite story from each. But it’s not as if the Holmes canon doesn’t have enough words dedicated to it already, and thus I thought I’d opt for collections by other authors instead.
So, the rules: collections of short stories by a single author (no compendiums, wherein the quality always varies horrendously), readily available today…that just about covers it. And so, alphabetically by author, we have:
Fen Country (1950-79) by Edmund Crispin
The second of Crispin’s two short story collections, published posthumously. My choice of the two because of the way a lot of the stories hinge on a very simple core idea – homonyms, for example – that might come across a gimmicky but manage in about six or seven pages to communicate setting, setup, event, outcome and misdirection. Frankly no small feat! Yes, consequently the characters tend to suffer (the ebullient Fen is a curiously neutered presence in the stories in which he features) but for sheer inventive interpretation after inventive interpretation this is hard to beat. And as an example of Crispin’s tight hold on the reins of his plots (which could, let’s face it, get a bit beyond him in his novels) this reinforces his reputation in a form that has often proved the undoing of lesser talents. [Available in ebook and thoroughly unattractive print form from Bloomsbury]
Recommended reading: ‘Death and Aunt Fancy’, ‘The Hunchback Cat’, ‘Outrage in Stepney’ Continue reading →